Amy Allen didn’t think she’d like writing songs for somebody else.

From a young age, she was the very definition of a singer-songwriter. She recorded her first studio album when she was still a student at Waynflete School in Portland, appeared on the NBC singing competition “The Voice” while in college and later fronted her own Boston-based band, Amy & The Engine.

So it might be surprising to some that Allen, who grew up in Windham, is now a work-a-day songwriter helping to pump out pop hits in Los Angeles. Most days, she attends two songwriting sessions with other writers and some pretty famous recording artists. She’ll walk into a room and start chatting about whatever’s on her mind, because she feels songs have to come from something real.

Seen in her performing days, Allen now is focused on helping write songs for other artists. Photo courtesy of Amy Allen

The chances that a radio hit will come from one of these sessions are slim. But in the year and a half since she’s been writing for other people full-time, Allen has beaten the odds. Two songs she helped write are currently radio hits – “Back to You” by Selena Gomez and “Without Me” by Halsey. She also co-wrote a song called “When You’re Ready” on Shawn Mendes’s latest album.

But maybe more importantly to Allen, 26, is that she’s found she loves writing songs for others.

“I always thought I didn’t want to write for other people. I thought it would feel weird,” said Allen. “But I get to work with so many different people and try so many different sounds. When I was writing for myself and the band, I didn’t want to stray too much from my own sound. Now I can do urban, pop, country, and it’s so much fun.”

“Back to You” was released in May as part of the soundtrack to the Netflix series “13 Reasons Why.” It’s been on the Billboard Top 40 pop chart for more than 25 weeks, peaking at No. 4 in late September. It’s played often on pop stations like Portland’s Q97.9. “Without Me” came out in September and is still climbing the Billboard chart, hitting No. 20 on Nov. 3.

“Back to You” has become a major hit, with its catchy tune and lyrics about lost love and regret: “I wanna hold you when I’m not supposed to/When I’m lying close to someone else/You’re stuck in my head and I can’t get you out of it/If I could do it all again/I know I’d go back to you.” Allen’s work is steady. She’s signed to a publishing company, which along with her manager, helps her get writing sessions.


 

Because she co-writes songs with artists and other writers, she declined to say which parts of the songs she contributes.

“I knew for a long time I wanted to be making music and hopefully making a living at it,” said Allen. “I feel lucky to be doing this.”

EARLY PASSION GREW INTO VOCATION

Allen grew up in Windham, listening to all kinds of music. When she was about 10, her older sister, Ashley, was the drummer in a band at Waynflete called No U Turn. Allen wanted to join, and she kind of wanted to play drums, but since her sister had that job, she took bass and joined the band. It was in that band that she first started writing songs.

After a while, Allen and her sister were playing gigs around Portland with other musicians, including Carter Logan of the bluegrass outfit Jerks of Grass.

When her sister went to college, Allen kept playing. While still in high school, she decided to make a studio album, with Jonathan Wyman, a respected producer based in Maine. Wyman let other people he knew in the local music scene know that Allen had a special talent, and sound. It was that kind of word of mouth that has helped Allen succeed in music, including getting the writing job she has now.

Amy Allen plays with her band Amy & The Engine in Portland in 2016. Today she’s living in Los Angeles and working as a songwriter. Two of the songs she helped write – including “Back to You” by Selena Gomez – are in rotation on pop radio. Staff photo by Ben McCanna

“Jon Wyman told me about her and that she was really, really good,” said Charlie Gaylord, a Kennebunk music producer and host of the local music radio show “Greetings from Area Code 207” on Portland station WBLM. “She has a real knack for writing songs, she can write one at the drop of hat. Plus, she’s always been very driven and had a great work ethic.”

Gaylord helped Allen get gigs and promoted her music and her career. When listing the people she owes thanks to for supporting her passion for music, especially early on, she named her parents and Gaylord.

Through his radio connections, Gaylord helped Allen get an audition with the NBC singing competition “The Voice.” She spent six weeks filming the show. Though she did not make it past the show’s blind auditions – where judges are filmed listening to singers they can’t see – she said she learned a lot.

The show’s producers brought in professional songwriters to work with the contestants, and Allen got her first real glimpse into the job.

When she went on “The Voice,” she had been enrolled in Boston College and was planning to be a nurse. But her time on the show helped convince her she needed to do music full-time. Plus, she remembers blacking out at the sight of blood during one of the “Twilight” vampire movies.

Her parents, she said, didn’t like the idea of her traveling far from home to pursue music at such a young age. Her mother looked up the Berklee College of Music, which Allen had never heard of, and encouraged her daughter to stay in Boston and go there. She auditioned for Berklee and got in.

One of her teachers was Kara DioGuardi, a former “American Idol” judge and successful pop songwriter who lives in York. DioGuardi, working with artists and writers like Allen does now, has written songs recorded by Gwen Stefani, Britney Spears, Kelly Clarkson and Christina Aguilera, among others.

“That class was a catalyst for me. She was hard on everybody, but in a good way,” said Allen of DioGuardi. “She basically told us, this is what it takes to write a pop song.”

Allen had to audition to get in DioGuardi’s songwriting class, and DioGuardi said Allen’s talent was apparent immediately. She said Allen, even as a novice, could write emotional songs that DioGuardi felt would fit into the pop music market.

“Both those songs have a real emotional connection to the artists who perform them,” said DioGuardi of the radio hits Allen has helped write. “Amy is able to help the artists she works with tell their story, and it’s connecting big time.”

Though being on “The Voice” and taking DioGuardi’s class had put ideas about what it takes to be a professional songwriter in Allen’s head, she worked on her own music after college with a band, Amy & The Engine, based in Boston. But she also dabbled in writing songs for other people as a way to make some extra money.

While she was still with Amy & The Engine, a cousin of Allen’s posted some videos of her singing her songs online. A friend of the cousin’s, who had gone to Cheverus High School in Portland, was doing some freelance work for a music publishing company. Her songs got forwarded to others.

She moved to New York with an eye toward songwriting, trying to be “smart” about it and knowing she wanted to sign with the right company and the right people. Through a mutual connection she met Scott Harris, a pop songwriter who has written several songs for Mendes. She signed a deal with Harris and with music publishing company APG.

So, by the time she moved to Los Angeles a year and a half ago, she had the structure in place to begin working full-time on writing songs. Without getting into financial specifics, Allen said that if a song she has helped write sells well or gets airplay, it allows her to get more money on future deals. And she is also entitled to royalties, which also go up as the song gets played more. Allen says she does miss performing, which she did often until she began working as songwriter full-time. But, for now, she’s focused on writing for others and finding it satisfying.

The Maine rapper Spose has seen Allen perform over the years and has marveled at her songs and her musical ability. But Spose, whose real name is Ryan Peters, thinks one of the biggest reasons Allen has had success in the music industry is her personality.

“Songwriting, with people you’ve never met, can make people feel very vulnerable. But Amy is friendly and nice, so she puts everyone she meets at ease,” said Peters. “I think that’s what makes her great in those sessions, that she’s a kind person.”

Ray Routhier can be contacted at 791-6454 or at:

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Twitter: @RayRouthier